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Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Geoff Gallop, director of Sydney Uni's graduate school of government, has written a piece for today's Higher Education Supplement to The Australian.

Gallop retired from politics earlier this year in order to combat depression. It's good to see him back in business and taking up a challenge. Often it is hard for people who have suffered mental illness to recover sufficiently that they are able to return to the workforce. Gallop's is a success story.

His piece introduces a book that I wrote about earlier this month. Edited by Ken Turner and Michael Hogan from the University of Sydney, The Worldly Art of Politics "outline[s] the assumptions about politics that underpin media commentary when terms such as ticker, strong leadership, backflip and poll driven are used to assess performance".

But is the media at fault? Busy parents have little time for the details of any issue and, in any case, most people like rubber-necking. We stare at conflict. It's probably a throw-back from the time when hunting was our way of life. Weak prey would often mean a good meal. We drill into the issues just as far as our short attention spans let us.

All too often the commentary on politics focuses on self-interest and conflict between personalities and factions, and glories in the indiscretions and misdemeanours of politicians in their private and public lives. The other world of politics - purposeful activity on behalf of genuinely held beliefs and a commitment to public service - also needs serious investigation and (I would add along with Turner and Hogan) celebration.

Most punters work five days a week, watch half an hour's news in the evening, and worry themselves to death about their job and economic security. Why should politicians be let off the hook?

Personally, I believe that in this tripartite structure — people, press and politicians — the press gets stuck in the middle and receives the rough end of the stick more often than it deserves. Maybe I'm biased. But until the pollies stop attacking each other, we'll never leave the tracks.

I should say something about the way I read the newspapers. I avoid opinion pieces like the plague (unless I find one that deals with a topic the appeals to me). I never read anything about health. I skip pre-election prognostications and wait until the results come in before spending time with the reporters. I never read anything about federal Labor politicians. I ignore stories about climate change (there's no proof that it is due to industrial activity). These are a few of my least favourite things.

On the other hand, I love Emma Tom, who writes a column every week or so in The Australian. She's totally daft.

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